Parañaque mayor defends actor Mark Anthony Fernandez for getting COVID-19 vaccine, says he didn't cut the line

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) — Parañaque City Mayor Edwin Olivarez on Wednesday defended the inoculation of actor Mark Anthony Fernandez, who isn’t among the first in the COVID-19 vaccine priority line.

The mayor explained nearly all of the city’s frontliners — or “almost 90-95%” — have already been vaccinated. Fernandez, whom Olivarez said has a comorbidity, was part of the quick substitution list, which allows a person to take the place of someone who did not show up for a scheduled inoculation.

“‘’Yung mga vulnerable nating residente ng Parañaque ang binibigyan po natin, second sa ating medical frontliners,” he said. “According to our medical team, nung ni-screen si Mark Fernandez, meron syang comorbidity.”

[Translation: Our vulnerable Parañaque residents are second in line in the vaccination program, next to our medical frontliners. According to our medical team who screened Mark Fernandez, he has a comorbidity.]

The country’s COVID-19 vaccination framework lists vulnerable groups, such as senior citizens and those with comorbidities, as the second top priority.

Dr. Olga Virtucio, a city health official, also said the vaccines had to be distributed to those who could arrive at the vaccination site three hours before the day ends.

"Madami na kami substitution list for those na perimeter at madaling tawagan, natatawagan agad and they would come immediately 'yun nalalagay sa substitution list. Ilalagay namin sana ang health workers, kaso minsan ang health worker ilalagay mo sa substitution list, di pa rin makarating kasi nasa mga duty," she said.

[Translation: There are a lot of names on the substitution list and those who we are able to contact and could come immediately are included. We would like to include health workers, but sometimes those included in the list aren't able to make it because they are on duty.]

Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing earlier said those on the list must come from the priority sectors.

"Kapikon-pikon ang ginawa kasi any vaccine na you use outside the priority list is a vaccine that you are taking away from frontliners. I'm sure there are more people that are the priority than the actor... Pwede namang driver, pwedeng hotel frontline worker, pwede government employee. Bakita artista ang pinayagan gawing substitute sa bakuna na yan?" he said.

[Translation: What happened was annoying because any vaccine you use outside the priority list is a vaccine that you are taking away from frontliners... I'm sure there are more people that are the priority than the actor... It could have been a driver, hotel fontline worker, a government employee. Why was an actor allowed a substitute to take the vaccine?]

LIST: Priority sectors, subgroups in COVID-19 vaccination program

He also shared a list bearing the names of five mayors who jumped the vaccine line.

Mayors Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban City, Dibu Tuan of T'boli, South Cotabato, Sulpicio Villalobos of Sto. Niño, South Cotabato, Noel Rosal of Legazpi City, Albay and Abraham Ibba of Bataraza, Palawan were all issued show cause orders.

Other mayors also received the vaccine, making the announcements via their own or their local government's social media pages.

Densing said public officials may face possible suspension for violating the prioritization, but the Office of the Ombudsman would determine what the penalty would be.

"(The) Ombudsman determines the penalty — suspension -- I believe in this case," he said.

DOH Undersecretary Ma. Rosario Vergiere called on everyone to follow the protocol, warning that jumping the line could endanger vaccine supply.

"Gusto muna natin bakunahan ang vulnerable at at risk from getting COVID... Ang WHO nagbabala na sakali magkakaroon ng breaches sa pinirmahan sa COVAX facility, our future supplies might be compromised. Let us wait for our turn," she said at a televised briefing.

[Translation: We want to vacciate the vulnerable and those who are at risk from COVID... The WHO has warned that should there be breaches in the agreement with the COVAX facility, our future supplies might be compromised. Let us wait for our turn.]

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization said the Philippines may risk losing millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses from the global COVAX program if it fails to follow prioritization requirements, including the strict allocation of the scarce vaccines to medical frontliners and vulnerable sector.